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Is there a difference between normal Leadership and Project Leadership?

What is leadership and is there a difference between being a normal leader and leading a project?

Let us first look at the definition of leadership – “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this.”

The basic definition of a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.”

The project environment is very different from that of typical day to day operations or a regular team that performs similar activities on a day to day basis. The fact that a project is temporary has a huge impact on the staff employed within that project in respect of their motivation, their commitment to the work in hand and their loyalty to the project.

In addition, the ‘unique’ aspects of the project will also lead to a different environment than that of a regular team which carries out similar, repetitive or comparable tasks on a regular basis. The impact of the ‘unique’ aspects on team members may be seen in a lack of confidence, fear, anxiety, aversion to responsibility and accountability and insecurity. This means that the project manager may need to communicate with the team more than usual, adopt more of a coaching or mentoring role and overall spend more time with the team.

Although there is clearly a difference between leadership and management and the fact that additional leadership skills are required in a project as opposed to a regular team, a good project manager will still have to balance those areas effectively within the project.

John Adair’s action-centred leadership model can be used effectively to reflect the balance of skills required in the leadership aspects of a project. He suggests leadership can be spilt into three key elements: achieving the task, developing the team and developing the individual. When considering projects, all of these elements are independently essential in ensuring success, but more importantly the dependence of each element on the other is essential in the successful execution of the project and its elements.

Good Project leaders should have full command of the three main areas of the action-centred leadership model, and should be able to use each of the elements according to the situation. Being able to all of these things, and keep the right balance, gets results, builds morale, improves quality, develops teams and productivity, and is the mark of a successful project manager and leader.